Cracker Barrel Appetizers, Ranked Worst To Best

Cracker Barrel is such a supremely down-home restaurant that even the appetizers get in on the coziness. Not only can you enjoy a leisurely lounge in a rocking chair on the front porch while you wait for your table, you can also dig into an array of Southern small bites as you try to conquer that exasperating peg game. Of course, you'll be ordering a substantial main dish platter, and you'll probably finish up with some of those tempting Cracker Barrel desserts. And if you're going all-in for the experience, you might as well get your meal off to an appetizing start, too.

Being fans of all things fried and carb-filled, we wondered how these introductory options stacked up against one another. So we sauntered into our nearby Cracker Barrel and sat down for a taste test, assessing each selection for flavor, texture, freshness, creativity, and all-around enjoyment. Some are dressed-up variations of familiar side dishes, served in generous portions; others are only found on the starter menu, but make tasty additions to your choices from the entrees section. 

We ordered the whole collection and considered it a multi-course meal, assessing each selection one bite at a time. (We'll touch on this more at the end.) To be fair, there's not a bad bite in the batch, but while some were good enough to order again, others we'd be more likely to skip on a return visit.

6. White Cheddar Cheese Bites

Mozzarella sticks are a given in the world of appetizers, so of course, Cracker Barrel includes a version in its line-up, called White Cheddar Cheese Bites. Mimicking the character of more Midwestern fare, mozzarella is replaced with white cheddar, while the sticks become bite-size nuggets, similar to cheese curds. Uniformity in the shape and breading makes them look like half-size hush puppies, and the dish comes filled with enough for everyone to nibble on. There's no splitting a cheese stick in half to make sure your crew gets to try one; you can all grab a handful and still find a few left over.

These lightly breaded lumps start out melted and gooey, as all proper cheese appetizers should, with enough crunch on the surface to temper the softness inside. The bowls of ranch that come with them help bring in additional flavor, a definite plus, since white cheddar is a bit bland. Since we had them on the table a bit too long, they cooled into a chewier version of their former selves — still delicious, but not quite as appetizing as when they first appeared. We learned this the hard way as we hungrily circled the other dishes, which is largely why White Cheddar Cheese Bites come in last place; they're good, but not great.

5. Loaded Hashbrown Casserole Tots

Taters in tot form seem to show up in all sorts of restaurant situations these days. Cracker Barrel offers a homestyle hashbrown casserole on the sides menu, then takes the dish to richer heights as Loaded Hashbrown Casserole Tots, smothering them in shreds of cheddar cheese and sprinkling them with bits of real bacon. We could swear the restaurant goes one step further, filling them with a creamy cheese gravy sauce that transforms them into tater grenades, though we can find no mention of this on the menu or the website. Whatever the secret magic is, this order is a keen breakfast dish you can enjoy without having to be an early riser.

These tots are also a fun reinvention of the familiar form; rather than the smallish nuggets we're used to, we had tots the size of donut holes, enough to deliver the potato flavor accented by the filling and toppings. They come with ranch dressing for dipping, though they hardly need it. Each tot was so sizable, it was easy to fill up on one or two, which means sharing with your table mates won't be an issue. If you're dining alone, be sure to ask for a to-go box for whatever might be left in the basket. They'll make a great reheat in the morning.

4. Biscuits

Country-style biscuits are a sure thing at Cracker Barrel; they come to the table free of charge as just another element of the restaurant's sweet hospitality. But that doesn't make them any less an appetizer than the items you order from the menu. Why shouldn't there be biscuits on the table in addition to whatever early noshes you order? We thought they should be fair game as part of our ranking, and boy, are we ever glad we chose to include them.

We're pretty discerning about our bread products, and Cracker Barrel biscuits are some of the best in the business. Dense and crumbly, with just enough flavor to state their case, these biscuits were the perfect vehicle for diffusing the fried fare, serving as both a palate cleanser and a starter in their own right. They also seemed to have salty bottoms, a fun discovery that may not have been intentional but was certainly appreciated. A slab of butter was all it took to complete a perfect biscuit moment. But it didn't seem right to rate the free food higher than the priced food, so we ranked them in the middle. Bread that can hold its own against more specialized fare deserves that much, at least.

3.Loaded Steak Fries

Steak fries are a staple side offering among most Cracker Barrel lunch and dinner platters. Why would anyone order them before the main event? Because in the form of Loaded Steak Fries, they become the centerpiece of the appetizer array, something familiar topped with bacon and cheddar shreds like their more hoity-toity cousin, the baked potato. They're dressed up and ready to show what they're capable of, which gives diners plenty to savor until their orders arrive. But then you reach for one from the bottom of the pile, and you discover these fries are resting atop a layer of melted cheese sauce. Suddenly, the deliciousness factor is taken up a notch. These fries came to play big, from top to bottom and all through their crispy centers.

Fries are such ubiquitous snacks, it could be easy to pass them up in favor of something more daring. These fries are different enough to warrant a try, but prepare to be overwhelmed; the strips are so large and the toppings and sauce so rich, one or two may be all you need. Anything more, and you might be too full for your dinner. We're ranking these decadent bites as a third-place winner for that reason; an appetizer so indulgent that keeps you from enjoying your main dish should be enjoyed with caution.

2. Country Fried Pickles

Before you write off deep-fried pickles as an oddball Southern delicacy, think about what's involved: tangy dill pickle slices, slathered in batter and deep-fried until they're beyond crispy — the level of crunchy that the very last french fries in the batch become, and ranch dressing as a perfect dipping sauce. Country Fried Pickles at Cracker Barrel are just that fantastic, each disk like a version of fried zucchini that got its act together and took it on the road. Imagine hamburger dill slices sheathed in onion ring batter, and see how long it takes before you start drooling.

We found it difficult to keep our hands out of the fried pickle basket once we started going. The initial thrill of the texture is a serious hook; this is deeply fried, to the point of emitting ASMR-friendly sounds as you chew. Then, the tender pickle slice takes the lead, chewy without being soggy, imparting the tingly tang that told us this was an excellent choice. We went for another, and another, circling back as we sampled the other dishes and finding ourselves eager to grab another. So we did, and we were sad when they were gone. We still are.

1. Biscuit Beignets

We had no choice but to put Biscuit Beignets in the top spot of our ranking. It isn't often that an appetizer takes on the depth and dimension of a dessert. But that's exactly what these incredible bite-sized sweets do. You aren't likely to mistake them for traditional beignets. They're denser and less pillowy than the usual recipe, due to Cracker Barrel's use of biscuit dough. The crisp exterior and tender interior are the perfect combination for enjoying a donut-like starter that gives you just enough sweetness and spice, courtesy of a touch of cinnamon in the dough and a dusting of powdered sugar on top.

We were delightfully surprised to learn these beignets were three-bite sizes and perfectly shaped for dipping in the syrupy butter pecan sauce that accompanied them. True, the other appetizers were delicious, but they were also twists on starters you know and love. Having something sweet on the menu to shake things up made for a fun alternative, and considering that these arrived at the table last, they felt like an appetizer dessert that finished things off on a lighter note. We would have no trouble ordering these to go and enjoying them with a cup of coffee around the table at home, for breakfast or dessert.

How we ranked Cracker Barrel's appetizers

To rank the menu of Cracker Barrel appetizers, we ordered the whole selection and sampled them individually. We took note of the freshness, the expected texture, and the quality of the toppings. We also kept an eye on the creativity used in the restaurant's choices; items like Country Fried Pickles and Biscuit Beignets were unique enough for a visit to Cracker Barrel over other eateries with more familiar appetizer listings. As we ate, we paid attention to which options were tasty enough to try a second and third time — something we took as a favorable sign. Then, we compared our overall experience with each one and made our list.